The way we read comic books seems to be, along with most other methods of print media, changing. More and more readers are deciding to pick up their books over their phones or tablets using digital means of distribution, and Alex de Campi, writer of the comic series, Valentine, and the upcoming Grindhouse Season 2, had a hand in taking this movement forward. Valentine began in 2009 and was one of the first series to be released across numerous platforms, digital being the most important. Valentine itself evolved and changed distributors along the way but was recently discovered by comic creator, Mark Waid, and was added to the digital comics company, Thrillbent. With the second volume of Valentine having just been released, we took the opportunity to talk with Alex about the book, digital distribution, Grindhouse, and her style of writing in general. Hit the jump for our interview.
ALEX DE CAMPI: First and foremost, I consider Valentine to be a supernatural thriller so if you like supernatural stuff this should be right up your alley. It’s also a story that I’ve written for the audience to never know where it goes next. I purposefully want the story to be unexpected and really take the readers for a ride. The story itself is about two soldiers during napoleon’s retreat from Russia, who are learning why you never start a land war with Russia. During this war, 500,000 men marched in, 50,000 left. It was considered to be one of the greatest military disasters of all time as a good number of soldiers weren’t even killed in battle, but rather due to the elements. Keeping this in mind, I wanted the story to be very evocative with the colors. The story finds 2 cavalry officers whose horses have died, they’re separated from their unit, and they know they are going to die. While coming to grips with their fate, they stumble across a General and his wife, who is dying as she is trapped underneath a turned over carriage. The general says to the two soldiers, “I have this package, you have to take it and go now! I’ll hold off the Russians.” Valentine, one of the soldiers and our main protagonist, leaves with the package, and it’s the worst decision he’s ever made, but he’s too nice a guy to have not done it!
It just so happens that the package is a key which allows two supernatural races to get back to their original homeworlds. These two races are essentially the origin for fairy tales in our world and it’s revealed that all fairy tales are in fact real. The walls between our world and others was originally much softer which allowed for these other species to leak into our world and create these stories and myths. The two opposing races were light and dark in that people from one planet were all the nice fairy tales and their mirror world was all the evil stuff. All of them though want to come to earth. Over time, the ability to move back and forth starts slowing down and then it eventually just stops. These once powerful races on earth can’t use much magic now and they’re essentially stuck as regular humans. They all just want to go home and they hate everyone here.
Because of all this, Valentine becomes public enemy number one. Neither side is very nice. The ones that are more associated with positive are a little more forgiving than their counterparts but not by much. Everyone involved is really just trying to manipulate Valentine and all he wants to do is make it back to France as he’s sort of a simple man.
DE CAMPI: The story works well in 1812, and it’s really a surprise to see where it all goes moving forward with this timeline. In preparation for writing this, I did a lot of research. I really enjoy reading history and military history so I wanted to do a project that’s set in this particular time, and it helped that my artist, Christine Larsen, is much more impressionistic. As a writer, I would give my artist a basic overview of the timeline and that lets them be free.
I was always one of those kids growing up on trashy fantasy novels. If it had shiny foil on the cover and a dragon on the cover, I ate it up. I was young and impressionable at the time and it helped form my tastes as an adult. Coming into the fantasy toolbox was this great homecoming to me. It really felt like putting on an old coat, I just knew it. In all my writing, whether it be for Valentine or anything else, I try to be incredibly respectful of the genre. I want readers to really look at both the fantastic and the mundane aspects and say, “Oh this is interesting.”
The more mundane aspects of the book, such as Valentine’s character, help to ground it. It’s the characters having these mundane moments and personal moments in this amazing environment that really give it it’s strength. Every terrifying moment is shaded by something mundane. You have to embrace that ridiculousness.
DE CAMPI: Absolutely. The history of Valentine was one of the great precursors of digital comics. It was done by just a writer, who was pregnant at the time mind you, and an artist. We put it up on Comixology, which wasn’t as popular then by any stretch of the imagination as it is today, and it became incredibly popular. It’s why we were such a good fit for Thrillbent, as all the company’s works are done in digital. Let’s walk away from the trees and just do panels is the basic mentality. It sold pretty well and I stopped counting after half a million downloads, which allowed us to self finance.
While all this was going one, we were hoping to get picked up in the early days. That was the problem with being “first” in the digital comic age as it was a risk, but we helped to inspire so much, all these new digital comics.
Do you see this becoming a movie/television series/radio drama in the future?
It would make a really good movie, but that’s not my end game. I don’t write to get optioned by Hollywood. I would rather just make an awesome comic that’s super entertaining, and give the readers enjoyment that way.
Tell us about your other projects, such as Grindhouse.
DE CAMPI: Grindhouse is a wide variety of movies, blacksploitation, Asian martial arts, horror style, necromantic etc etc. The series, Grindhouse, was designed to be 8 issues. Every two issues would be a new story, completely unrelated to one another, a little anthology of grindhouse stories (get in and out very fast). Some “bad” comics are grindhouse, but there’s a very specific reason why they don’t work: 1.) Very few people can sustain interest for a grindhouse book over 6 issues. At first it can be really fun, but how do you keep ratcheting up? 2.) Often these stories become a white male power fantasy. The genre of horror celebrates the “final girl”. Blacksploitation gave us female action heroes, as the most 70s movies had them. These are all very counter culture routes, often made by daring, liberal filmmakers. John Carpenter for example was always great with that. Grindhouse in comics tends to be white prominent I feel and has a “Super gory and huge sex” quotient.
DE CAMPI: I will be at New York Comic Con, Table Y-3. Cards which I’ll be distributing there have QR codes which will get you a free month of Thrillbent and get the weekly episodes. You can get it on Comixology at a chapter a week right now. I’m just so damn happy its back and the new episodes are beautiful, relettered and everything. It’s a heart-felt story that I’ve worked on for so long. It’s success has meant so much for Thrillbent and for me personally.